Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why are Mexican beers the way they are?

Have you ever wondered why Mexico has the brewing tradition they do? Why does it seem that all the beers that come out of Mexico are lagers?

Think of the Mexican beers that you are familiar with, Corona, Dos Equis, Pacifico, Modelo... what do those beers all have in common?

The answer: they are all lagers.

Have you ever gone into a Mexican restaurant and listened to the music? Doesn't it remind you of the same music you hear in a fine German restaurant?

So, why does a place that speaks predominately Spanish, have beers (and music) that pretty much have an origin in Germany?

The reason is simple, in the later half of the 19th century, there was a large amount of German immigrants into Mexico. These people are known as German Mexicans (Deutsch-Mexikaner). There was also a large amount of German immigrants during the first and second world wars.

From 1864 to 1867, Maximilian I was the emperor of Mexico. He was born Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria. He brought a lot of German colonization into Mexico during the Second Mexican Empire.

What did those people bring with them? Mostly, a Bavarian influence. This can be seen in some houses, in music, in cheese, and in BEER.

An expected style to come from a warmer area like Mexico would be an ale style of beer. In order to create a lager, beer requires cooler temperatures. This would form a need for refrigeration, since a cool, natural LAGERING facility wouldn't be available.

Most of the more common beers coming from Mexico are pale lagers. There's even a beer called Bohemia, which is a pilsner. The most common Dos Equis beer is amber, which is a Vienna style lager. Negra Modelo is now classified as a Munich Dunkel (I think of it almost as a schwarzbier). Modelo Especial is a pilsner style. All of these beers have their roots in Germanic styles (oddly there are no popular hefeweizens).

In my beer drinking years, and time spent looking at beers produced in various areas along with food styles from those areas, I've drawn some conclusions. Mexico doesn't follow any of the rules. It seems places that have historically more interesting foods, have beers that go well with those foods. Food seems to drive beer styles.

Belgian monasteries produce fine cheeses that go well with their fine beers. When spices from India started to make their way back to England, that led to a rise in IPA's and those cut the spices well.

German food (while good) seems to be rather non-spectacular in the use of spices. A schnitzel is still basically a pork chop. A sausage (regardless of how delicious) is still a sausage. These foods go well with a Vienna amber, or some other dark lager. They are hearty foods, and are served with a hearty beer. The beer isn't the most robust, it doesn't have the most hops, it doesn't have the most malts, but it goes great with the food. Good food, paired with good beer is one of life's pleasures.

Even in America, we have two styles of restaurants that go with two styles of beers. You can have a bud light with McDonalds (fast food beer with fast food grub); or you can have a North Coast Old Rasputin with a creme brulee (craft food with craft beer). Bland with bland; or great with great (and everything in between).

When I think of Mexican food, I'm not thinking about Taco Bell or any other "tex-mex" style chain. It's more of the "mom and pop" (madre y padre) operation that is authentic Mexican food. These foods use their spices, peppers, and hand made tortillas perfectly. They aren't mild dishes by any stretch of the imagination. Why are these foods commonly paired up with a beer style that seems to go best with hot dogs? It's odd that the creativity in the food didn't lead to more creativity in the beer styles.

So, to sum up; the reason that your Dos Equis Ambar tastes like it came from Vienna is because the style originally came from Vienna. The reason that style wound up in a Spanish speaking nation is because German settlers brought what they did best, make German beers.

The next time you go to a Mexican restaurant, skip the Corona. Try something on the menu that you haven't had. Try one of the beers that you haven't had. See if a Negra Modelo goes better with your food. See if the Dos Equis Amber goes better.

Then when you want to have something that's a great pairing with the food, have a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.


I totally forgot tomorrow was Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The Mexicans won an unlikely battle, but ultimately, the French later took over Mexico City. After they did, they placed Maximilian I (from above) on the throne.

So, tomorrow, on Cinco de Mayo, as you are downing your cases and cases of German influenced Mexican beer, remember that you are celebrating a victory over the French; that then led to the Germanic styles that you are enjoying.

1 comment:

don said...

Thanks for the insight. Very interesting and informative. yasmar62